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“Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.” Ephesians 6:18
Prayer and war are inseparably related. Certainly this holds true of prayer and physical warfare so that as the old adage goes, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” Anyone in a trench with bullets whizzing overhead or anyone who is in the midst of some terrifying calamity “prays.” Even those who say “there is no God” and never pray, “pray” when their life is on the line, vainly hoping some higher power will hear and help them. Nevertheless, we have in mind true prayer offered by Christians in the name of Jesus Christ and spiritual warfare. Between these two there is an inseparable relationship according to Ephesians 6:18. There is no main subject or verb in this passage quoted above, for the inspired apostle is continuing the main thought of the preceding verses: “Christian brothers, put on the whole armor of God and stand!” Now in verse 18, he adds, “Praying always….” Warring soldiers pray. God sees to it.
Through prayer as an exercise of faith the Christian soldier is made strong in his armor. Prayer is not a distinct piece of armor like the helmet or shield, but it is that which holds all the pieces of armor together and through which they are made effective. God answers prayers and brings His indispensable aid to the armed soldier so that he is strong in his armor in the power of divine might. Satan knows that the soldier who goes to church every week and can even rattle off doctrinal formulations, but does not pray betrays his outward profession and is easy prey. The absence of prayer reveals the absence of armor and, instead, the domination of the flesh. Satan also knows that the praying soldier is mighty in God. We do not know everything Peter was doing the night he was talking to a maid by the high priest’s palace, but we know he was not praying. We do not know everything Daniel was doing in the lion’s den and prior to it, but we know he was praying. Prayer-less soldiers fall. Praying soldiers stand. Experience confirms it. The inspired apostle exhorts us to put on the whole armor of God—and prayer—that we may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
His uttered prayers
The Christian soldier is “praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit.” Prayer is the soldier’s conscious uttering of words to his God. The triune God takes the elect sinner into His covenant of friendship through Jesus Christ and makes him a Christian soldier. Because the Christian soldier lives as God’s friend, he is no longer the friend but the foe of the devil and sin. He is hated by the world. As the friend of God, the soldier is always praying because communion with God is delightful to him in his new heart.
What the Christian soldier utters is contained in the phrase “with all prayer and supplication.” “Prayer” is Scripture’s most general term for the act of praying and it refers to every form of devotional speech to God, including utterances of adoration, confession of sin, and thanksgiving. The Christian soldier prays with all prayer, meaning, he uses all these different utterances all the time—morning and evening, privately and publicly, in church, at home, at work, and at school.
Moreover, he prays with all “supplication,” which is a specific kind of prayer. The idea is something like this: “Praying always with all prayer and especially with the prayer of supplication.” Supplication refers to an entreaty in which we plead with God to give us something: “Remove this thorn! Heal me! Deliver me from temptation! Grant me wisdom to know what path to choose! Provide a job for me! Grant me a wife! Keep my tongue from folly! Deliver my friend from drunkenness! Rescue my sister from her infatuation with a false church! Destroy the devil! Preserve the church! Send the Lord Jesus! Not my will but thy will be done!” It is not surprising that special mention would be given to supplication, for the praying Christian is a soldier who is always under attack and encountering dangers in the heat of battle.
The Christian soldier utters these prayers “in the Spirit.” That is, he prays in the power of the Holy Spirit. First, because the Spirit is the Spirit of Christ, the Christian always prays, “for Jesus’ sake.” The Christian solider recognizes that of himself he is unworthy to come into God’s presence by prayer and most definitely he is unworthy to ask God to give him anything, so he always prays in the name of his Savior. Jesus in His perfect life and atoning death is the soldier’s only way to God and God’s blessings. The wicked in foxholes cannot pray, for they do not have the Spirit, and without the Spirit they will not pray in Jesus’ name. Pleadings that are not in the name of Jesus are not prayers but arrogant demands that God abhors.
Secondly, to “pray in the Spirit” is to pray sincerely and from the heart. Sometimes the Christian soldier utters thoughtless, rote phrases; and sometimes when others are leading in prayer, his own mind wanders. To pray in the Spirit is to pray from the heart with understanding and earnestness.
Thirdly, to “pray in the Spirit,” is to pray with confidence. The soldier’s faith can come under ferocious assaults. But when he prays in the Spirit, the soldier has complete confidence that God hears and answers all his prayers for Jesus’ sake. Others may give up and say, “What’s the use in praying? God does not hear me.” But the soldier who prays in the Spirit is assured he is accepted in the beloved and keeps praying in confidence.
Finally, to “pray in the Spirit” is to pray according to the Word of God. The Spirit always works in and through the Word of God. There are flippant and irreverent prayers that do not harmonize with the majesty of God in Scripture, greedy prayers for riches that do not harmonize with the humility required in Scripture, prayers for miraculous healings that do not fit with the expectations of Scripture. The Christian soldier is always in the Word, and his prayers are informed by the Word.
In uttering all these prayers and supplications before God, the Christian soldier is vigilant and attentive on the battlefield, always watching. In order to utter, he watches. “Watching with all perseverance” refers to being alert. And he is not only watching for himself, but “for all saints.” The saints are those who are in God’s covenant and indwelt by the Holy Spirit so that they are the sworn enemies of sin, Satan, and the wicked. Each Christian soldier is carefully watching with all perseverance for all his fellow soldiers.
Why? Thereunto! Watching for this reason: prayer! “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto…” He watches that he might pray. Praying in the Spirit by uttering words to God is the goal, and in order to pray bringing meaningful requests unto God for others, the soldier is always watching the whole battlefield with perseverance and supplication.
Watching the field, the Christian soldier knows what is going on in the lives of other young people and saints of all ages in his congregation so that he might supplicate for the new mother, the new officebearer, the member under discipline, the shut-ins, the widows, and the ill. He reads the Standard Bearer, the Acts of Synod, and other literature to keep abreast of ecclesiastical developments so he knows how to pray for all the saints. He reads the newsletters that come from the missionaries or other organizations like the Society for Special Education or the Reformed Witness Hour in order to supplicate for others. He pays attention to world news, so that he might know about attacks on religious freedom, natural disasters, war, worldliness, and other troubles affecting fellow soldiers all throughout the world so that he can pray for them. The Christian soldier watches with all perseverance and supplication for all saints in order to pray always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit.
His urgent prayers
How urgent are these prayers! “Always” and “watching” and “perseverance” imply urgency (read the passage again). But also “wiles,” “wrestle,” “spiritual wickedness in high places,” “the evil day,” and “fiery darts” in the preceding context (Eph. 6:11-17) indicate the urgency.
First, the Christian soldier urgently prays for himself. He will never wake up to quiet on the home front. The devil or one of his demons spends the night sleeping beside the soldier’s bed and, as soon as he stirs, the devil is ready to tempt—tempt him to have negative thoughts so that he feels gloomy getting out of bed, or tempt him by some circumstance or comment or thought or message, hoping he will be on edge, lose control of his spirit, and speak harshly or hastily. How urgent are the soldier’s prayers!
Secondly, the Christian soldier urgently prays for other saints. If they are saints, the devil hates them. Some young Christian soldiers have lost the will to fight; they cannot even get out of the tent in the morning and put on their armor to go out in the battlefield.
They stay home from school or go masking their dark souls with a half-smile. They are deeply depressed, overwhelmed with anxiety, and not even thinking straight. They feel like they are all alone at the bottom of a deep, dark pit. Not only are they unable to pray, they have come to doubt that there is even a God to whom they can pray. Christ will never let go of such soldiers He purchased with His blood. He will work His Spirit in them empowering them to cry out to a friend or pastor, “Help, I can’t even pray!”
Some Christian soldiers have experienced the death of a loved one and their grief is so profoundly deep that they feel only coldness within, and under the continual buffeting of Satan are beginning to lose a desire to go on. You might see a grieving soldier who is in the cemetery with his knee down by a tomb stone sobbing over a relationship that is no more.
Some soldiers endure hardness for Jesus’ sake. They are being persecuted physically or emotionally or psychologically. They are being bullied, and called names for being upright in conduct and speech. They are suffering the loss of possessions or opportunities, even a job. They are being tempted by Satan to compromise their faith and confession.
Others have a parent or sibling walking in unbelief, or they suffer never-ending pain, or some great debilitation in body or mind, or loneliness, or trouble finding their way in life, or the emptiness of hearing from the doctor that they will probably never be able to have children, and the devil continues to tempt them to live in continual sadness or to get angry with God.
Some Christian soldiers are being blinded by Satan right now and tempted to commit gross acts of wickedness that will cause regret for the rest of their lives. They will fall, or already have and do not care. Others who grew up on the hearty meat of the Reformed faith are being tempted to apostatize for the sake of a boyfriend or a job or the thrill of rebellion, or hatred for the truth. You might not know who they are, but they are on every field, and maybe even sat in the pew ahead of you last Sunday.
How urgent are the prayers of the watching and praying soldiers who plead with God in the name of Jesus that He might comfort, reassure, break, humble, rescue, and preserve His saints everywhere!
Thirdly, the Christian soldier urgently prays for ministers, asking that God will make them bold to preach. There may be people in the congregation who do not want the sharp application of the Word of God, and they make themselves known. The preacher can be tempted to backpedal or soften the Word of God so that he is not confronted by them. There are enemies without who hiss and snarl and make ominous threats if the church condemns their wicked lifestyle through preaching. Sometimes the preacher is even jailed for the sake of the truth. Pray that God make the minister bold, lest the sword of the Spirit be sheathed and the whole army suffer. If Paul needs prayers for boldness, then every man does. Listen to the next two verses: “And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak” (Eph. 6:19-20)
His unceasing prayers
Unceasing are the Christian soldier’s uttered battlefield prayers (“praying always”). The soldier is not a monk who abandons life in the world in order to retreat to a high mountain and spend all his waking hours with his hands folded and his knees bent in prayer. That he prays always means he is not only utilizing appointed times throughout the day to fold his hands, close his eyes, bow his head, and utter words through his mouth to God, but he also lives his whole life conscious of
God and with a prayerful spirit. A profitable time to pray with eyes open is while cruising alone in a vehicle as sacred music quietly plays in the background, contemplating God, His greatness, and your need for Him. How regrettable that a soldier should drive home from school with profane music thumping in his car stimulating the lust of the flesh and the pride of life. The Christian soldier is praying always by communing with God in his heart.
The Christian soldier knows his strength is not in prayer itself, but in the God to whom He prays. Christ is the soldier’s strength. Christ who was made weak in our flesh as a Man of sorrows smitten and sacrificed on the cross for us. But in His weakness He was strong;
He was judging the world; He was casting out the prince of the world; He was being lifted up that He might draw us unto Himself. He was accomplishing victory for His people. The risen Lord is our strength and might. Christ-less soldiers fall. Christ-clad soldiers stand. Christ works His Spirit in us so that we pray in the Spirit and through those uttered, urgent, unceasing prayers His strength becomes ours and we stand in the battle.
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.
Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;
Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.
And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: